Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Charles Aldrich to Walt Whitman, 9 June 1890

Date: June 9, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08330

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Stephanie Blalock, Brandon James O'Neil, and Marie Ernster

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Iowa State Library
Des Moines,
June 9, 1890,

Dear Mr. Whitman;

You know how hard I have tried to get the autograph copy of "My Captain,"1 for our Iowa Collection. But the fates—or Walt Whitman—are ever against me.

But will you send it to me now, for a remittance of $5.00?

Very sincerely yours,
Charles Aldrich.

One of our drawers—16 x 18 inches—is now devoted to memorials of yourself, but I am most anxious to secure a holograph copy of "My Captain," while you can still write it & I can fitly arrange it in my collection, which, you are aware, is always open to the free inspection of the great Democracy. It should be written on but one side of the paper, dated & signed.2

Charles Aldrich (1828–1908) was an ornithologist, a member of the Iowa House of Representatives, an infantry captain in the Civil War, and founder of the Iowa Historical Department. He was also an avid autograph collector, especially of Whitman's. He was so eager that the poet termed him "a very hungry man . . . never satisfied—is always crying for more and more" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, August 20, 1889). Aldrich visited Whitman at his Camden home numerous times, and he served as a conduit between the poet and William Michael Rossetti in England, who edited the first British edition of Whitman's work. For more information, see Ed Folsom, "The Mystical Ornithologist and the Iowa Tufthunter: Two Unpublished Whitman Letters and Some Identifications," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 1 (1983), 18–29.


1. Aldrich wanted an autograph copy of Whitman's poem "O Captain! My Captain!." The poem, an elegy for Abraham Lincoln, was one of Whitman's most popular, although it was atypical of his verse and style (the rhyme, meter, stanza and refrain are conventional, and the poem makes use of traditional metaphors). "O Captain! My Captain!" was first published in The New-York Saturday Press on November 4, 1865, and it was reprinted in Sequel to Drum-Taps (1865–1866). For more information on the poem, see Gregory Eiselein, "'O Captain! My Captain!' [1865]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. Whitman eventually did furnish Aldrich with a manuscript copy of "O Captain!," for which Aldrich sent the poet $5. Whitman signed the manuscript copy "with best wishes prayers & love for the people of Iowa." The manuscript is still on display at the State Historical Building in Des Moines. See Ed Folsom, "The Mystical Ornithologist and the Iowa Tufthunter: Two Unpublished Whitman Letters and Some Identifications," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 1 (1983), 18–29. [back]


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